COME ON AND SWING A LOOP!!
Let’s roll out of our blankets, stomp on our boot’s and grab a biscuit, a plate of warmed up last nights beans and a swig of coffee out of a rusty tin can and start the day. Grab your rope and fetch a “hoss” from the Ramada, and slap on the saddle and go. Bil and Shorty will take the north fork and you and I the south, we’ll beat the brush and drive the cattle, calves and mavericks down to the flat where the other boys will drive them into the main herd. Woah, whats a maverick you ask? Well there was a rancher down in old Texas named Maverick who didn’t brand his cattle. When it came round up time and the critters was bunched, there were a hell of a lot of unmarked cattle in the bunch. The cowboys started jokingly calling them mavericks, as he couldn’t tell his from the other ranchers unbranded cattle. After a bunch of hard hours beating the draws and bush we think that all the ornery critters are bunched together, and it is time to start sorting them out. You see this is open range country and the different herds have mingled together over the winter months and now we have to sort and mark each brands steers.
So how do we go about this awesome task? The boys working the herd has pretty well sorted the herd into bunches by now and the others with unmarked calves have been pushed in closer to the branding fires. A roper will select a unbranded calf and rope it by it’s back heels. He does this so as not to injure the baby by dragging it by it’s neck. He then pulls it to the fire, calling out the brand that the mother has.
One cowboy on foot will grab the calf while it is stretched out and flip it over onto it’s right side. He then quickly kneels on its neck and from it’s backside and grabs the left front leg and pulls up and forward. Meanwhile a second cowboy removes the rope from the back feet and sits on the ground and grabs the left rear leg and pulls up and back. He quickly pushes the back of the right leg forward with his left foot thereby immobilizing the calf completely. A third cowboy has removed correct, the very hot branding iron from the fire and approaches the calf from the back and applies the iron to either the left rear hip or the front shoulder depending where the ranch prefers its brand to show. The iron is applied in such a manner that only the outer layer of skin is singed enough to destroy the roots of the hair. A deeper burn will cause injury and infection to the calf.
At this time it is often the custom for a series of slits to be cut in the section of lose skin on the calf’s neck in a pattern unique to the ranch, as a mark of ownership. Also notches are often cut in the ear as a visible sign of owner ship. These brands and cuts and notches are registered with a cattleman’s association showing who owns that paticular piece of livestock.
Now days calves are most often inoculated with serums for tuberculous and other diseases at this time.
If the calf happens to be a young male it if most often castrated also, unless it has been selected to breed. A castrated steer will not cause as much trouble in the herd at maturity as one in heat. On modern ranches at this time the stock is often de-horned at this time. Hornless cattle cannot damage each other of get tangled up in brush or fences.
Once all this is done to the poor critter it is let up to run back bawling to its mother. While the cattle are all bunched up is a good time to look them over for sores or open wounds that need treating. Today there are all kinds of salves to treat the various hurts. In the early days most often the wound was just doused with a splash of kerosene to kill fly eggs and maggots. In one of my books there is a account of a cow being pulled to the fire and doused with kerosene, when released it ran into the fire and caught on fire panicked it ran into the herd where it ignited twenty other treated cows and all were lost or had to be destroyed.
Now in this scenario I had us working in brush country, so our ropes would have most likely been the shorter forty foot version. Had we been in the more open country we would have had the longer sixty to eighty foot style. and in the brush country we would have needed the full length leg covering Chaps. And for my part the leather cuff’s on my wrist to protect them from brush and rope burns. And did cowboys wear gloves? that was a personal preference many did while others preferred to feel the rope with their hands.
Well Pard’ let’s head back to the chuck wagon and have a plate of fresh beans and a biscuit and a cup of coffee. We’ll sit around the fire and yammer for a while maybe roll a smoke, me I prefer a small pipe it’s easier than messing with that damn paper and lose tobacco. Then I’ll roll up in my roll and catch a few before my time to ride night herd under the stars. then a few more hours sleep and up again to a new section of range tomorrow. Sleep well Pard’, don’t let a rattler share your blanket with you in the chill of the night.
thanks for riding along.